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Grand Duke Adolf-Friedrich VI was born on June 17, 1882 in Neustrelitz the third of the four children of Grand Duke Adolf-Friedrich V and his wife Grand Duchess Elisabeth, (the third child of Friedrich I, Duke of Anhalt and Princess Antoinette of Saxe-Altenburg.) At the time of his birth his grandfather Grand Duke Friedrich-Wilhelm of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was on the throne and his parents were the Hereditary Grand Duke and Hereditary Grand Duchess. As the elder son of the Hereditary Grand Duke at birth Adolf-Friedrich bore the title Hereditary Prince.


Hereditary Prince

The young hereditary prince was christened Adolf Friedrich Georg Ernst Albert Eduard in Neustrelitz on July 19, 1882 with holy water sent from the River Jordan in Palestine. The christening was part of a double celebration for Mecklenburg-Strelitz as the day also marked the 60th birthday of his grandmother Grand Duchess Augusta.

Adolf-Friedrich’s godparents were his two grandfathers Grand Duke Friedrich-Wilhelm of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Friedrich I of Anhalt, his uncle the future Duke Eduard of Anhalt, his great aunts Duchess Ekaterina of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (born Grand Duchess of Russia) and Princess Maria Anna of Prussia and Duchess Agnes of Saxe-Altenburg (both born Princesses of Anhalt), his great uncles Prince George, Duke of Cambridge and Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Altenburg, the future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Princess Helena of Schleswig-Holstein (born Princess of Great Britain), the future German Emperor Friedrich III and Grand Duke Friedrich-Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.  

Adolf-Friedrich spent his childhood at the Carolinenpalais in Neustrelitz with his parents and siblings, Marie, Jutta and Carl-Borwin where he received private tutoring. From February 1, 1891 to December 11, 1898 he was tutored by the Protestant theologian Carl Horn, after which Adolf-Friedrich left Neustrelitz to continue with his studies at the Vitzthum-Gymnasium in Dresden where a fellow student was his kinsman the young Grand Duke Friedrich-Franz IV of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

Hereditary Grand Duke

The first half of 1904 was a time of sadness for Adolf-Friedrich and the grand ducal family. In January he lost his maternal grandfather the Duke of Anhalt while in March his great uncle and godfather the Prince George, Duke of Cambridge also died. It would be his third bereavement that would have the most impact on his life as with the death of his paternal grandfather Grand Duke Friedrich-Wilhelm on May 30, 1904 his father succeeded as grand duke with Adolf-Friedrich becoming heir apparent to the throne and Hereditary Grand Duke. From his paternal grandfather he inherited considerably less money than his siblings as he was in direct line to become grand duke and inherit the bulk of the grand ducal family’s wealth and estates.     


Thanks to the influence of his grandmother the Dowager Grand Duchess, who was born Princess Augusta of Cambridge, Adolf-Friedrich had a great admiration for Great Britain. He was present at a number of major British royal events including the funeral of Queen Victoria in February 1901, the coronation in 1902 and the funeral in 1910 of King Edward VII, and the coronation in 1911 of King George V. He spent the summers of 1912 and 1913 in Britain and became a well known and liked member of London society.

While hereditary grand duke, Adolf-Friedrich was seen as one of the most eligible European princes of his day with a possible engagement a topic of newspaper gossip. With his close links to Britain he was at various times linked to King George V’s only daughter the Princess Mary, the king’s cousin Princess Patricia of Connaught and even the morganatic daughter of the British based Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich of Russia, the Countess Zia de Torby, who Adolf-Friedrich was regularly seen out with while in London. Other rumoured spouses were Emperor Wilhelm II’s only daughter Princess Viktoria-Luise of Prussia, her cousin Princess Margarethe of Prussia and her future sister-in-law Princess Olga of Cumberland.


Reign as Grand Duke

Having spent ten years as heir apparent in 1914 Adolf Friedrich’s father fell seriously ill. On June 7, 1914 while receiving treatment in Berlin his father transferred governing power to Adolf-Friedrich. Four days later Grand Duke Adolf-Friedrich V died and he mounted the throne as Grand Duke Adolph-Friedrich VI. He had very little time to mourn the loss of his father and adjust to his new role as that August the First World War broke out and he had to fulfil the grand duchy’s obligations and lead Mecklenburg-Strelitz in support of the German Empire.

Although Mecklenburg-Strelitz was at war and Adolf-Friedrich VI a serving German officer, he was also a sovereign prince with a responsibility and duty to his subjects and as such continued to push for political reform in Mecklenburg just as his father had before him. When negotiations broke down with Mecklenburg-Schwerin over the subject in 1917 Adolf-Friedrich VI’s government contemplated repealing the union of the two states.

With Adolf-Friedrich VI having come to the throne while unmarried and without a son there was an issue surrounding the succession as his heir Duke Carl-Michael had indicated just before war broke out that he wished to renounce his rights to the succession. If there was no male heir to Mecklenburg-Strelitz then the grand duchy would merge with neighbouring Mecklenburg-Schwerin.


During the war the topic of marriage was discussed by Adolf-Friedrich VI and his friend Princess Daisy of Pless, however in war time it was difficult to arrange a meeting with an eligible princess. Eventually the Princess of Pless identified her husband’s relative, Princess Benigna Reuss of Köstritz, as a suitable bride. As Adolf-Friedrich VI was agreeable to the match his Minister-President Heinrich Bossart began negotiations to bring about the marriage. However before an engagement could be announced there was the complication of a connection with a women whom Adolf-Friedrich VI needed to be freed from.

While heir to the throne and based in Potsdam, Adolf-Friedrich VI had a relationship with a Hungarian born woman named Margit Höllrigl. He was rumoured to have given her a marriage proposal so he could renounce his succession rights and allow his brother Duke Carl-Borwin to become grand duke instead. Any possibility of this happening ended suddenly in 1908 with the death of his brother which left the only other successor to the throne the Russian based Duke Carl-Michael.

With the succession now uncertain it became essential for Adolf-Friedrich VI to remain heir and one day marry to ensure continuation of the dynasty and the independence of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. As such he attempted to pay off Höllrigl to release him from his promise. But because she was alleged to have been in possession of letters linking Adolf-Friedrich VI’s name with homosexual circles, the publication of which would have caused a great scandal, she was said to have attempted to extract more money from him.


One of the other women identified was the Italian opera singer Mafalda Salvanti who Adolf-Friedrich VI had invited to his summer residence in 1916 and 1917. Adolf-Friedrich VI was alleged to have been the father of her two sons Rolf and Horst Gérard although this claim has been shown to be untrue as letters from Adolf Friedrich to Salvanti, which only came to light around 2008, show that there was no real relationship between them and that they only knew one another after both Gérard boys had already been born. The story that Adolf-Friedrich VI was the father originated from a note written by a Hanseatic city diplomat who had been told the story by Adolf-Friedrich’s brother in law Prince Julius-Ernst of Lippe.


With the war entering a fourth year and his love affairs possibly going to become public knowledge, on the evening of 23 February 1918 Adolf-Friedrich VI left his residence in Neustrelitz to take his dog for a walk. He never returned and the next morning his body was found in the Kammer Canel with a gunshot wound to his temple bringing about a tragic end to Adolf-Friedrich VI four year reign which had been blighted by war. An autopsy found that he had drowned and no weapon was recovered from the scene.

The circumstances and reasons for his death are unclear although in his suicide note he hinted that a woman wanted to discredit him. Rumours surfaced after his death that the German Secret Service had discovered that he had been spying for Britain and that he had been given the choice of being tried as a traitor to Germany or taking his own life, although this story was refuted by his close friend the Princess of Pless.

In the newspapers at the time both Mafalda Salvatini and Margit Höllrigl’s names were also mentioned in connection with his death. The princess who was lined up as his wife, Benigna Reuss of Köstritz, would remain single for the rest of her life dying on 20 February 1982. In 1926 Margit Höllrigl reappeared unsuccessfully suing Adolf Friedrich’s heirs for £162,000 which she claimed was the remaining balance of the £200,000 that Adolf Friedrich had allegedly agreed to pay her for compromising documents.    

With Adolf-Friedrich VI’s passing his childhood friend the Grand Duke Friedrich-Franz IV of Mecklenburg-Schwerin travelled to the neighbouring Mecklenburg-Strelitz to assume control of the government as regent until the issue of the possible succession to the throne of the Russian based Duke Carl-Michael could be resolved.

With the civil war raging in Russia, Carl-Michael had fled to the Caucasus region so contacting him proved difficult. With the independence of Mecklenburg-Strelitz at stake Adolf-Friedrich VI had requested in his will that Duke Christian-Ludwig, second son of Friedrich-Franz IV, become grand duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz as it was thought unlikely that Carl-Michael would assume the throne having indicated before the war that he wished to renounce his succession rights.

Ultimately the succession to the throne became irrelevant as the German revolution in November 1918 forced the Emperor, kings, grand dukes, dukes and princes from there thrones to make way for a republic in Germany. As such Adolf-Friedrich VI would prove to be the last grand duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Adolf-Friedrich VI is buried on Lovers Island in Mirow. In recent years some memorials to him have been unveiled in Neustrelitz.